One Man of God and His Successful War Against Communism
Frank Laubach used literacy as a weapon against the communist threat
One of the extraordinary Christian men of the 20th century has largely been forgotten, even though he literally had the ears of kings, prime ministers and presidents as he waged a war against the rising tide of communism, using the weapon of literacy to engage in battle.
His name was Frank Laubach, and not only did he make enormous strides in his chosen field of literacy in the second part of his life, but he also did so when he went as a missionary among the Moros in Mindanao in the Philippines, experimented with prayer, wrote numerous books, broke down complicated issues and problems so they could be easily understood, and applied his keen intellect and the Bible to numerous societal challenges that required practical answers.
In this article I want to focus primarily on his battle against the threat of communism which had grown so rapidly after the abdication and execution of Nicholas II of Russia by the Bolsheviks.
When reading most of Laubach's books, you discover he's a good writer, but it's easy to lose the depth of his intellect because of his ability to communicate difficult ideas and concepts in an easy to understand manner.
His schooling was formidable. One biographer named David E. Mason in his book ‘Frank C. Laubach: Teacher of Millions’ (p.31), noted that Laubach decided he wanted to go to a leading university, and in preparation of that he attended Perkiomen Seminary, a prep school sponsored by German Schwenkfelders. It was a major school that sent many of its students to Ivy League universities.
From there he was accepted at Princeton, and interestingly had future president Woodrow Wilson as one of his professors. Wilson was very influential in Laubach's life over the years.
After Princeton he went to Union Theological Seminary where he had a crisis of his faith because of the teaching of the hoax of Higher Criticism, which suggested many parts of the Bible weren't inspired. His biographer said for about two decades Laubach struggled in that area. Incidentally, it was about the time he resolved the issue that he started to look at what he could do to help battle against the threat of communism.
For the last couple of years at Union Theological Seminary he also attended Columbia University. During that time he was influenced by the social gospel from a book written by Walter Rauchenbush called ‘Christianity and the Social Crisis.’
Why I wrote about his high level of education was to convey the fact while he was extremely intelligent, he was able to understand, communicate with and teach the common man in many different cultures.
He also did this very successfully in the books he wrote. His speech and writing were filled with passion and rhetoric while underscoring the logical needs and strategy that had to be understood and employed in order to achieve his goals.
What motivated Laubach
In the area of communism, Laubach saw the horrific destruction that accompanied it, as hundreds of millions of people accepted willingly or were forced under its totalitarian hand; many of them were executed or jailed.
With his highly analytical mind, he researched the problem in order to find out why so many people were amenable to it, in the case of those that embraced it.
What he concluded from his research was it was because of the promises of everyone being fed and having their needs taken care of by the state. In his travel to numerous countries he found that it was the lack of literacy and accompanying education that allowed many people groups to have hope in the promises of the communists. They simply had no hope for a better life as they stood at the time.
Understanding the problem and what needed to be done, Laubach tackled it with his usual fervency.
His literacy ministry
Laubach was an experimenter at heart, and if one thing didn't work he'd adjust and adapt and try it again until it did work. He and his team were wildly successful in this regard.
Eventually they traveled to well over 100 countries, planting the seeds of literacy and literature to the diverse people groups. Most of the literature had a practical emphasis on how to solve problems and improve their lives, such as in the area of agriculture and cleanliness, etc.
What was especially impressive was the level of the expert system they developed together. Among many of the people groups they worked with, they would arrive to work with them, and within two to three weeks they were reading; that's how advanced the literacy campaign had become.
This is especially impressive when it is realized they didn't have an alphabet or written language at all.
How they did it was to have specialists in several areas working together to develop an alphabet and symbols for letters, and then apply it to the words spoken by the people. To spread literacy quickly, they taught the concept of 'each one teach one' in order to leverage the teaching far beyond themselves.
What they would do is find a local person that knew the language and had been schooled in the region. The first thing they did was to find out what the vowels and consonants were of the spoken language, and put together an alphabet.
From there they had an illustrator that accompanied them draw the letters based upon common locally identifiable objects or wildlife. For example, if there was an 'f' sound, they may use the figure of a fish as one of the letters of the alphabet to make it easy for them to remember.
Once the alphabet was in place, they then put the letters together to form words, and then teach the people how to read and write it. They even designed small booklets with the newly developed written language to teach the people practical things that would help them not only remember what they learned, but how to do things, as mentioned earlier.
Results with communism
It's impossible to know what place Laubach's global literacy had in the slowing down of the spread of communism and its ultimate defeat, but when traveling the world and engaging with many leaders of countries, it was apparent it had provided a lot of hope for them as they sought alternatives to the unsustainable promises made by the communist leaders.
An interesting part of Laubach's work was it gave him access to leaders of the free world all over the planet. If something got bogged down in bureaucracy or a problem couldn't be solved, he could call up the leaders directly, or at minimum, some of those in authority immediately surrounding them.
Without those relationships his job would have been much harder, and he wouldn't have had near the success he did.
More than likely his connections to world leaders was just as important as his success with literacy. Not only did it give the people hope, but the leaders were given hope in that there were answers outside the false promises and temporal hope offered by the communists. It undoubtedly encouraged them to resist the growing wave of the Iron Curtain trying to attract or forcibly overcome them.
Giving their people hope without a doubt provided the support they needed to stem the tide of the growing menace, and ultimately lead to the demise of the Soviet Union because it eventually went bankrupt because of a bankrupt ideology and people that never had a chance to sustainably provide what they promised.
Laubach never lived to see the end of the battle, but he lived long enough to see the spread of communism eventually halted in its tracks, before it finally crumbled under the weight of the illusion it had always been.
My favorite books by or about Frank Laubach
Frank Laubach was a very prolific writer, which is impressive when you think about the enormous amount of work and responsibilities he had throughout his life.
While there isn't a book I wouldn't recommend by Laubach of the many I've read, the three below stand out for me, even though, depending on your particular interests, there are several more that are very good.
If nothing else I would read 'Frank C. Laubach, Teacher of Millions' by David E. Mason. This gives a nice overview of the life of Laubach, and if you've already read some about him, it fills in a lot of personal and professional gaps that are assumed in much of his writings.
I know after reading a number of Laubach's books I felt dissatisfied in knowing who he really was as a person, and the things he did to prepare to live out his extraordinary ministry and life. It also gives some insight into how he creatively dealt with the tremendous amount of obstacles he faced at times.
Another good book, this one by Laubach, is called 'War of Amazing Love.' It gives a clear and passionate look into what drove Laubach in his many endeavors in life, while calling others to do the same. As with everything Laubach wrote, it was visionary and very practical at the same time.
Last is Laubach's book called 'Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World.' Here he digs deep into how he prayed and what it'll take to turn things around in the world by all of us praying. One of the unique aspects of his prayer life was his focus on entering into a life of a mystic in regard to prayer. It was unique because very few Protestants chose that path at that time in history.
Again, while it talks about knowing God intimately, it goes beyond that to using a prayer life to change things for the better in the world.
The first things he mentions is this type of prayer will first change you, and then many things you believe could never align for you, do so.
He's on record as saying focusing on the presence of God is hard, but when you achieve it consistently, the rest of the things you are attempting to accomplish become much easier.
The one thing that stands out to me in all of Laubach's books is how practical he is in tackling the myriad of challenges that accompany ministry and life in general.
There are very few men that I have known about that had the capacity to successfully develop an enormous number of skills at such a high level of expertise. Many of these allowed him to integrate them in ways that furthered his cause.
He could communicate in writing, one-on-one, and in speaking to crowds in ways that moved and motivated them.
What also was unique about him is he was able to embrace parts of what we would call liberalism today, while also, without internal contradiction, embrace some of what we think of as conservatism today. The obvious example there would be his opposition to communism.
In my view this is one of the reasons why his books are so interesting and readable. He tackled problems, figured out how to solve them, and them communicated to others in a way that helped them to understand the reason why it needed to be solved.
There are many more things a person can get from the life of Frank Laubach, but among the most important are his extraordinary success in his literacy work and how it helped push back against the very real threat of communism.
It's well worth the time and effort to look further into this amazing man and what he accomplished in his life.